SAINTE-BEUVE: Selected Essays by

SAINTE-BEUVE: Selected Essays

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In mid-19th century France, Sainte-Beuve was le roi of the critics. And like a king he looked over his subjects with a demanding eye; he also kept a kind of historical dossier. To judge a work, he said, one must have knowledge of the man who wrote it. Thus his essays are often as much concerned with an author's socio-psychological background as with the essence of the creation itself. If in our heyday of textual analyses and ultra-scholarly detachment, the Sainte-Beuve method seems outdated, one has only to dip into the royal collection here, (a representative grouping of his Causeries du lundi pieces), to find that unlike most kings, or for that matter most critics, Sainte-Beuve ages as well as wine. His was an art not so much of exquisite expressions (though he could manage that, too), as one of enjoyment, engagement and elucidation. He was, in short, dedicated and he could communicate his delight, whether subtly interpreting Montaigne, Moliere and Rousseau, or sparklingly investigating Corneille and Racine. One of the first to salute Madame ovary, he summed up: Flaubert wields the pen as others wield the scalpel. And that tribute still holds today. Of course, he picked losers and wrote off winners such as Baudelaire, Balzac and Stendhal, but even here, especially with the latter, he is immensely suggestive, and stimulating; after reading him you itch to get to the writers under discussion. In every way a rewarding resurrection.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1963
Publisher: Doubleday